Introverts and Social Media

If you’re an introvert like me.. Facebook can be something dangerous. I’m not talking about the risk of becoming “addicted,” I’m touching upon a tendency of supplementing meaningful face-to-face interactions with the reading of the Facebook newsfeed. I believe those of us who exhibit dominantly introverted personalities typically take the path of least resistance when it comes to social interactions. Without our conscious awareness of the fact, we read the newsfeed as a silent observer, contribute little to nothing, and go on with the day. We might be under the impression that this is harmless behavior, but I’ve started to feel like it fucks up my inner harmony.

I’m a huge proponent of the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator (MBTI), a compelling and comprehensive theory on personality types. According to the theory, there are two main functional attitudes present in each individual: one extraverted attitude and one introverted attitude. An introvert is focused primarily on his or her inner world of ideas and values, so the extraverted attitude (used for socializing and engaging the outer world) is secondary and serves to feed this  internal world with new information. While this extraverted function is supplemental to the main introverted attitude, it’s still a huge part of the personality. If that attitude is unfulfilled and/or mistreated, the individual to which it belongs might feel neurotic and emotionally disturbed.

Getting back to Facebook, I’m saying that introverts might fall into the habit of mistreating their secondary extraverted attitude when they use social media. As dominant introverts, we need lots of alone time. Solitude recharges us, we get to be with ourselves, to integrate the external world with our internal world more completely. But we also need to feed that alone time with the meaningful external stimulation that we experienced beforehand. This usually comes in the form of activities or deep conversations with those closest to us. Reading into the content of social media is like walking through a crowd and listening to everyone’s conversation. It’s unusual that any of that information will be very important and meaningful for an introvert. Regardless, that chatter is still absorbed and used later: for better or worse.

When we trick our secondary function into thinking it got what it was after (deep, meaningful interactions), we do damage to ourselves because we cycle through what should be a healthy progression while feeding the cycle something fake: Socialize -> Solitude -> Reflection -> Repeat. Cycle of Introversion/Extraversion

The “socialize” portion is artificial due to the superficial nature of social media, so this key component of the cycle is left unfulfilled. It would be like forcing your body to completely forgo water, by feeding it nothing but artificial soda. You can imagine what might eventually go wrong (kidney failure). The body would survive for some time before the alarm bells went off as pain began to set in, it might even feel great in the beginning as the initial sugar-rush energized the system. However, eventually the damage would be harshly evident. That’s where I’m at now, I need water fast.

I’m finding myself at times substituting something artificial (social media) for the essential water (tangible, meaningful interactions) that I need to be a healthy introvert. Sometimes it’s more comfortable to seek out interactions through habitually reading what my friends choose to post on social media than it is to go out into the world of people and engage in the uncertainty. Aware of this tendency, I have deleted my Facebook 2 or 3 times over the last 6 years, only coming back to it each time, a year or so later, after feeling refreshed and realizing the important utility of having an account in this day and age. I think social media serves a purpose and can help keep us connected, but left unchecked and overused, it can fuck up our natural rhythms in differing ways – depending on our personality.

I’ve realized that most of the information that I read in the newsfeed is not healthy because it lacks depth and meaning. Sure, every once in a while someone posts something sincere, heart-touching, and reflective of their true self, etc. But mostly it’s just random interests, pet peeves, garbage, etc. (***Or it’s the total disclosure of the lives of several extraverted friends, and now you’ve been indiscriminately overloaded by an extravert haha.) As sensitive introverts, we’re soaking it all up and it has to go somewhere: the extraversion folder of our lives. That folder gets full quick, leaving less room for the vital stuff. So there we find ourselves, overwhelmed, burnt out, socially exhausted yet unfulfilled because we’re still craving meaningful connections. And now, instead of rushing outside eagerly to live life and find meaning, we’re exhausted, boarded up in the comfort of our bedroom, perusing a site like Facebook as the vicious cycle continues.

My solution: set aside a very short amount of time (two days each week) to check Facebook for anything important that I get there (ie. not the daily news feed). I’m talking about important event invites, birthday updates, emergencies, a long-lost friend posting to my wall, etc. The truth is, nothing that comes in through social media is ever that urgent. Checking it twice a week is more than enough. Give yourself 15-20 minutes those two days a week and that’s it. Problem solved. Go out into the world and get the meaningful dose of extraversion that you require. Don’t waste it on the newsfeed of your Facebook friends. Go talk to your best friends about what’s really going on in their lives.

**TIP: If you’re having problems reversing any negative Facebook habit, I recommend Leech Block (a free browser add-on). You can set it to block out particular URL’s for customizable time periods. If you attempt to visit the site during a restricted time, it won’t let you. It will detour you to a Leech Block explanation, or you can set it to take you to another favorite page. Something productive, perhaps. In order to bypass it, you have to restart your browser. So it’s not permanent, but the hassle will help train you to improve your habit and give you a reason to keep your Facebook account. It’s worked for me.***